ISLAMABAD – As expected, the Swiss authorities said that graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari could not be opened so long as he remains head of the state.
In reply to a letter written by Pakistan government in connection with the money laundering cases against the president, the Swiss have explicitly stated that the cases could not be reopened as Zardari enjoys presidential immunity.
The Swiss reply, written in French, also says that under their laws an accused could only tried when he/she is already facing legal action in the home country, law ministry sources informed The Nation.
The SGS and Cotecna cases against President Zardari are put on hold in Pakistan due to the presidential immunity. Sources in the government said that Federal Law Minister Farooq H Naek flew to Lahore to brief President Zardari on this ‘positive’ development.
The legal and constitutional experts had already predicted this response from the Swiss as the Pakistan government had explicitly mentioned in its request to the Swiss that President Zardari enjoys immunity at home.
However, the sources said that cases against Zardari would reopen in Pakistan as well as Switzerland soon after he would relinquish the office of the President.
After the rejection of government’s review petition in NRO implementation case, it had initially had refused to write to the Swiss authorities for reopening of the graft cases against Zardari, saying that it would be insult to the office of the President.
This rigid stand led to the disqualification of ex-Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in contempt of court case while his successor Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was also served with the contempt notice on the same count.
But in the meantime Law Minister Farooq Naek privately flew to Geneva to examine the status of these cases and the possible fallout in case of writing a letter. After examining the Swiss laws, he along with other legal wizards of Pakistan People’s Party decided to write a letter mentioning the presidential immunity.
The legal experts were of the view from day one that in case of writing the letter the cases against Zardari would not be opened because of the immunity he has as head of the state. However, they were also of the view that all the cases against Zardari would stand restored the moment he would be out of the immunity shield.
All the corruption cases against two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto, her spouse Zardari and others were withdrawn under a clandestine deal made with the then dictator President Gen Pervez Musharraf in fall of 2007.
That deal, commonly known as National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), also paved the way of Ms Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and lifted the bar on her becoming PM for a third time.
Later, the ordinance was challenged in the apex court by one of the PPP stalwart Dr Mubashir Hassan and former bureaucrat Roedad Khan. The apex court had pushed the matter of NRO and other several dozen ordinances in the Parliament’s goal. But as PPP failed to win the support of its coalition partners in giving constitutional cover to NRO, the issue was thrown back in the court. The government even decided to stay away from the proceedings on the controversial ordinance but when it was struck down by the SC, the government decided to file the review petition. However, the court upheld its earlier decision.